The railway line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville was reopened for passenger services in 2016 after 14 years of being out of action.
I’ve been to Phnom Penh numerous times and I have always admired the old train station, hoping that one day that train services would resume. If you want to ride the only railway in Cambodia (as of 2018) then here is what to expect.
[Phnom Penh Royal Railway Station.]
Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville timetable
I’ve been wanting to do this trip since the line reopened but I had never timed my travels right. The train only runs on the weekend, starting with a Friday afternoon service from Phnom Penh, and finishing with a Monday morning service from Sihanoukville.
The train takes 7 hours so I wasn’t keen on getting the 15.00 Friday service. Instead I got the 7.00 service from Phnom Penh. There is a 7.00 and 16.00 service on Saturday and Sunday from both directions
From what I have read it is a popular service so I don’t know why it isn’t daily. There are freight trains running during the week but that isn’t a problem in other countries operating a single line railway.
How to buy tickets
I originally made a booking on the Royal Railway website, under “Passenger service > E-booking”. I inputed my details on this form but I never got an email confirmation. It didn’t take any payment details either, so I wasn’t confident my booking was made.
Fortunately I was in Phnom Penh a few days before my planned travel day. I went to the ticket office on Thursday morning and they said that the train was already sold out. I said that I made a booking online though never got a confirmation. They went away and then came back with a ticket for me. I didn’t give them my name so I have no idea how that worked.
The weekend I was travelling was the New Years weekend, so it might have been busier than usual. Either way I would not risk just showing up and expecting a ticket on the day.
If you don’t have the luxury of being in Phnom Penh first I would book online with Baolau to guarantee a seat via a more user-friendly booking service.
Departing Phnom Penh
I got the 7.00 service so I arrived earlier to get coffee. There is a good coffee stand in the station, and also a Tous Les Jours Bakery at the service station opposite the station. I stayed at Hotel Zing, which is a good budget hotel about 5 minutes walk from the station.
The passenger train also carries cars and motorbikes if you can’t be bothered driving to Sihanoukville.
Inside the carriages
The carriages were renovated in conjunction with the relaunch of the service. The seats are bench-style with two benches facing each other.
It’s a bit tight for my liking, and awkward to have to look at other passengers the whole way. At least I had a good group of seatmates who spoke English and chatted.
I wandered along the carriages and saw that other carriages were set up in a metro commuter style. I’m glad they didn’t sell me one of the standing room only seats.
And most importantly I checked the toilet to find a clean western-style toilet.
The train felt like being in a big floating lounge room with cushy seats, carpet floor, curtains, and framed pictures. The air conditioning is also household air conditioning units, and crucially it was set at a comfortable temperature. Trains and buses in Southeast Asia usually have airconditioning set to freezing, so this was a comfortable ride.
There is a kitchen at the end of the train serving drinks and instant noodles.
And the view outside is pretty good too.
[Room with a view.]
Stop at Takao
After 2 hours the train arrived at Takao, and there it stopped for a 10 minute break.
Everyone gets out for a food and drink before continuing the journey.
[Stock up on your meat-on-a-stick snack requirements here.]
Stop at Kampot
The next stop is at Kampot, where there was another convenience break. If you haven’t been to Kampot you should definitely add that to your Cambodia travel plans. It’s too bad that there isn’t a regular service for this route.
I got out for an iced coffee.
[Kampot coffee lady.]
Arriving at Sihanoukville
The golden beaches of Sihanoukville finally come into view.
[Beaches of Sihanoukville through the window.]
After a long day on the train we arrive at Sihanoukville Station.
Total travel time
The scheduled travel time is a whopping 7 hours. By comparison you can get to Sihanoukville by van in about 4-5 hours. The Southern Line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville City is 264 km, so the average speed is about 38km/h.
This trip took 7.5 hours:
Depart Phnom Penh 7.03
Arrive Takao 10.08
Depart Takao 10.18
Arrive Kampot 12.17
Depart Kampot 12.30
Arrive Sihanoukville 14.42
The train stopped a few times in the middle of nowhere, which added the half an hour to the scheduled travel time.
[A bemused cow wondering why we had stopped where we did. I was wondering that too.]
I haven’t found a good explanation why the train is so slow. The track is completely refurbished so it is comparable with the 1-metre gauge tracks of Thailand.
Even though it’s much slower than the van or bus, it was a far more enjoyable journey. If you are on holiday and not in a hurry then this should be the preferred way to travel.
[Delightful Southern Cambodia.]
I hope that they can sort out the train speeds in the future as this should be a daily service that is covered in 3 hours.
There are now plans to build a faster railway. Read more about future Cambodian railways.